27/05/08

Thailand gets snippy about castration

Last month, Thailand banned “cosmetic castration” for the under 18s. Cosmetic castration: now there’s a concept. As if lopping the balls off an adolescent were of a piece with smoothing some wrinkles out of a furrowed brow.

Yindee with katoey

The Ministry of Public Health is concerned that young men are going through the cheap, easy castration process before they’ve really thought through the implications of this extraordinarily irreversible process. The debate around the ban has raised an issue that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Will the world of transgenders (katoey in Thailand, waria in Indonesia, hijras in much of the Indian subcontinent) morph as an open gay scene emerges? The subculture differs quite a bit from country to country — in Indonesia, most waria keep (and regularly excercise) their male tackle, even as the live as women, selling sex to straight men. In Thailand, far more katoeys go through the whole sex change process — castration is a first step which cuts down on hormone bills until the wallet is full enough for the full chop. But whatever the local norm. living as a transgender has been an obvious path for many people who, as young men, were effeminate or confused about their sexuality.

That was in part because there was virtually no visible gay scene. That’s now changing very rapidly throughout Asia. Young men, including those from rural areas and less educated backgrounds, are going on line and discovering that there’s a gay community in a city not far away. Are some of these men people that would in an earlier age have become transgenders? We’ll never know, but it does seem to me that delaying castration until a young man has had a chance to explore some of the alternatives for sexual expression is not such a bad idea.

Re the photo: I ripped it off a random website, which ran the credit: A woman (left) chats with katoey at a Bangkok cafe Flickr photo by Bart Morane. But the woman (left) looks for all the world like my friend Yindee, a former UN bureaucrat and therefore more than likely to be hanging out in bars chatting to katoey.

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This post was published on 27/05/08 in Men, women and others.

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  1. Comment by Roger Tatoud, 28/05/08, 10:48:

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I would disagree with your comment that a “gay scene” is emerging in Thailand. It has been around for several decades as Thai Gay magazines demonstrate. Unfortunately most of these have ceased publication with the moral crusade run by several governments (particularly the Thaksin administration).

    What is nevertheless happening is a westernisation of the Thai Gay/MSM scene. The best person to discuss this is my Australian friend Peter Jackson, that you may now and who has done extensive work of the subject and who is currently setting up the Thai Queer Resources Centre (http://www.tqrc.org/data/index_En1.html).

    One of most interesting story is that the first Thai magazine for men was produced by a straight man, a young student who used to work for a straight magazine. The magazine would publish pictures of naked women but sometimes of naked men. It is the amount of mail received after the publication of men pictures that decided this student to publish the first “gay” magazine, back in the 70s. Since then, the Thai scene has evolved in parallel to the Western scene but it is only recently that there have been more connection and influence from the later on to the former.

    The Thai scene retains an originality brought by the world of transgender that is already part of it and gives it a different meaning and colour.

    On the other hand, the internet in Thailand has been booming since 2003, and the number of Thai sites targeting a Thai audience is impressive, providing the nodes to a loose network where condoms are not often on the agenda.

    Best regards
    Roger Tatoud

  2. Comment by laurabear, 21/08/08, 06:22:

    What an intriguing question. I wish there were grants for me to study it!

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